A Blue Wave Is Swelling, but McConnell Has a Plan

As I’ve been suggesting for a while now, a lot of signs indicate that a big blue wave is developing for the 2018 midterm elections. Perhaps the strongest clue yet comes from the fact that even Republicans see it and, according to Politico, are warning Trump about the possibility of a coming bloodbath.

In recent weeks, some of the president’s advisers have taken it upon themselves to warn him directly about the fast-deteriorating political environment. White House officials have convened to discuss ways to improve his standing with suburban voters. And on Wednesday, the president met with Kelly, political director Bill Stepien, communications director Hope Hicks, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital director in the 2016 campaign, to discuss the political landscape. Lewandowski forcefully raised concerns about the party’s efforts, according to one attendee and another person briefed on the meeting.

Apparently the party’s leadership is expressing their concern behind closed doors.

Among GOP leaders, however, there is widespread concern heading into 2018. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said privately that both chambers could be lost in November. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has told donors that he fears a wave of swing district Republican lawmakers could retire rather than seek reelection.

The question is: what are they going to do about it?

It is this recognition of trouble ahead that explains why Senate Majority Leader McConnell has said that it’s time to move on when it comes to Obamacare repeal, that he was not interested in taking on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security next year and that he might be interested in working with Democrats on infrastructure. It also prompted this from Trump today:

If that is the plan, it could pose some interesting challenges for Democrats (which is probably McConnell’s strategy). As we’ve seen with Trump’s previous ideas about infrastructure, it’s a trap.

First, Trump’s plan is not really an infrastructure plan. It’s a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors…

Second, as a result of the above, Trump’s plan isn’t really a jobs plan, either. Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring…

Third, because there is no proposed funding mechanism for Trump’s tax breaks, they will add to the deficit — perhaps as much as $137 billion. Yes, some economists think more deficit spending will boost growth. But you can be sure of this: In Trump’s hands, rising deficits will be weaponized to justify future cuts in health care, education and social programs…

Fourth, if the Republican approach to the Recovery Act is any indication, the Trump plan will come chock-full of policy changes that undermine core Democratic principles. Buried inside the plan will be provisions to weaken prevailing wage protections on construction projects, undermining unions and ultimately eroding workers’ earnings. Environmental rules are almost certain to be gutted in the name of accelerating projects.

As we saw with Trump’s attempt to reach out to Democrats on repealing Obamacare and tax cuts, the president is literally clueless about words like “negotiation” and “compromise.” So if he and McConnell propose something like this, they aren’t likely to take Democratic ideas into consideration. Instead, they’ll simply use it to win over support from red state Democrats and/or as a cudgel to criticize others for their lack of support.

But this would also pose an interesting dilemma for the self-proclaimed leader of the insurgency—Steve Bannon. Infrastructure has been one of his big policy ideas. But if it is embraced by “the establishment” (i.e., McConnell), will policy outweigh his goal of taking over the Republican Party? Will he be able to work with his arch-nemesis on such a plan? Perhaps you are beginning to see the strategy behind what the Majority Leader is doing. Infrastructure is the issue that can be weaponized against both of his opponents: the Democrats and Steve Bannon. As an aside, it also empowers McConnell’s wife, who happens to be Secretary of Transportation.

Unlike Speaker Paul Ryan, who is a true ideologue, McConnell isn’t driven by a desire to dismantle programs like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. I suspect that he went all-in on tax cuts for his own interests as well as those of Republican donors. McConnell’s real focus is on doing whatever is necessary to maintain power. We might be seeing the outlines of his strategy for doing so.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.